Some interesting comments crop up in today’s Guardian interview with Frankie Boyle, comedian, Sun columnist and author of a heavily-promoted broadside against consumerism. I shall leave aside his defences of his offensiveness. I have no problem with offensive comedy, but I don’t think Boyle’s any good at it, or properly able to justify it. I might return to this issue when I’ve got less work to do and thought it through a bit more.
What really interests me is his comment about Stewart Lee being “irrelevant and flabby”. In a fit of apparent gallantry, Boyle goes on to defend Michael McIntyre and Russell Howard against Lee’s criticisms. However, I can’t believe that Boyle’s dismissal has nothing to do with Lee’s criticisms of his own work, particularly Lee’s assertion (once again in a Guardian interview) that with “most of those professionally offensive comedians…no one is ever actually offended. Everyone understands the parameters and operates within them, the audience and the performer”.
This leads me back to something that Barry Cryer said when I interviewed him for my forthcoming book The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson. Baz loves everyone and is loved in turn, so he finds it distressing to see comedians trying to get at each other in public. “Writers have got more cameraderie than comics. Now it’s fierce,” he said, telling the story of a very famous young comic who rang him up for advice. “[He said] ‘They’re all having a go at me. Why? Why? Why?’ and I said ‘Lie back and enjoy it. You’ve played the O2. You’re big. It could be jealousy.’ He said ‘People can enjoy Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, they don’t have to watch me.’ I said ‘Calm down and enjoy’.”
Baz then talked of another phone call he received, this time from one of the old guard. “I was talking to Ronnie Corbett this very morning on the phone…I said ‘It’s fascinating that we remember Eric and Ernie, Frankie, Tommy and everyone. They were all friends. Competitors [but] they never slagged each other off in public. Now they’re all doing it. Are you jealous of him? What’s happening?”
Maybe it all became too calculating and business-like with aggressive management operations like Avalon, Off the Kerb and John Noel promoting a ‘kill or be killed’ attitude? I’ll let Baz have the last word. “Denis Norden, my dear old friend, said a brilliant thing. He’s like me and Ronnie Corbett, we love the young ones. I’ve just done Edinburgh. I love the young ones. Denis said ‘Comedy’s as funny as it ever was, but it’s not as much fun’. The warmth thing. There are brilliant people around now. Ross Noble’s warm. Bill Bailey’s warm. There’s a lot of IQ about now. Brilliant brains, but not the warmth.”